Teens Transform Raw Ideas into Poignant Performances
Detroit, Michigan 48216
At Matrix School of Theatre in southwest Detroit, young people write and perform original plays that entertain and educate, bringing to the stage crucial issues in their lives.
From a majestic, old brick building in southwest Detroit, youth express their creativity in the form of provocative playwriting, on-stage performance, and larger-than-life puppetry.
At Matrix Theatre Company
, youthful ideas and uninhibited thoughts are transformed into productions that leave the young performers and audience pondering their roles in the world. It all happens as part of the Matrix School of Theatre, which engages young artists ages 5-18 in creating new work that calls attention to issues in their lives as they write and perform original plays that entertain and educate.
For example, the Matrix Teen Company, composed of high school students from the Detroit area who write, produce, and act in a full season of plays each year, wrote a play two years ago called, The Skin I’m In.” It was an honest portrayal of racism, homophobia, and bullying in high schools, providing a platform to have an open, candid discussion about these topics with parents and teachers who came to see the play (performances always have an audience talkback afterward).
"It has been both incredibly moving and incredibly eye-opening to see some of the conversations that happen between our teen performers and their audience members, young and old," say Scobie.
Andrea Scobie, director of education at Matrix, anticipates the same sort of response to the upcoming production, “Are You Passing?” which focuses on issues of education.
"These young people are feeling that their own needs are being overlooked by teachers and administrators in the quest to achieve perfect test scores,” says Scobie. "They feel that they aren't being heard, and that they are powerless to make a change in their schools."
Theater students have been working on this performance since last fall, and Hollywood actors Justin Bartha and Jesse Eisenberg visited the group last November to help create it. Bartha, as guest director, has been remotely assisting Matrix Teen Company in further developing the “Are You Passing?” script. He visited again in late February to stage the show for performances. It’s slated to open April 4.
But, Hollywood celebs aside, the youth voice is what truly makes “Are You Passing?” and other Matrix School of Theatre productions unique.
“Nearly everything that we perform is conceived and written by our students – even the five-year olds are developing their own plays – and the pieces that we create reflect the ideas, experiences, and concerns of our participants,” says Scobie.
The theatre provides a platform for young people to have a voice in their community and it gives them a chance to be heard.
“It has been both incredibly moving and incredibly eye-opening to see some of the conversations that happen between our teen performers and their audience members, young and old,” say Scobie.
The young playwrights and Thespians couldn’t agree more. “Through writing, it helps people express themselves and show people things in a different light or point of view, and that's pretty awesome,” says Angel Montgomery-Kennedy, age 15.
By putting a spotlight on those difficult-to-discuss topics, and creating new plays and performances that advocate possible solutions and generate dialogue, the program addresses issues of economic, educational, and racial equity. “Our younger
By putting a spotlight on those difficult-to-discuss topics, and creating new plays and performances that advocate possible solutions and generate dialogue, the program addresses issues of economic, educational, and racial equity.
students are still learning how to talk about those things, and to understand how these issues affect us all. But our teens are really not afraid to meet these topics head-on, and to talk about them through the lens of their own experiences,” says Scobie.
It’s also a platform to dialogue about Detroit and the trials of growing up in a city vexed with challenges.
“The thing that inspires me as a writer and as a Detroiter is the pain and suffering that we as humans go through. That motivates me to write and make something of myself,” says Cortez Brown, age 18. “However, being a Detroiter, the pain and bad times only make me stronger as a human being and makes me face obstacles that I know I can beat in the long run.”
The Matrix Teen Company gives Brown and his peers a forum for beating those odds, finding strength in the process, and inspiring and supporting others.
Scobie says that she sees in the youth a great capacity to inspire one another and witnesses a dynamic where they push one another to be better in the most generous and encouraging ways.
“The result is that the Matrix Teen Company is not only a group of incredible young artists, but more importantly, they are a group of truly caring and committed young people who are able to be advocates for themselves and for their city,” says Scobie.
Tickets for “Are You Passing?” are $12 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. The show runs April 4 -13, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets here or call 313-967-0599.